Tourism Minister meets with 30 mayors to solve freedom camping problem

More than 30 mayors have met with the Tourism Minister to express their growing frustration with freedom campers.

They're causing headaches for local authorities around the country, prompting a face-to-face meeting on Thursday with Kelvin Davis.

One of the 32 mayors present was David Cull, Mayor of Dunedin.

"We clearly want visitors to our country, but we've got to manage the volume," he says.

The concerns raised at the meeting ranged from over-crowded campsites, poor infrastructure and, in Queenstown Lakes' case, dirty habits. 

"Putting it plainly, pooping in the woods," says Mayor Jim Boult, "and the health issues that go with that."

The mayors and the Minister have agreed to set up a working group within the next month. 

The National Party has criticised the move, saying the Government should stop setting up working groups and take practical steps, such as restricting camping to within 200m of public toilets.

National passed the Freedom Camping Act in 2011, giving local authorities the power to enact camping bylaws. Now each area has different rules, which adds to the problem. 

"We want to find consistency and make sure that when visitors do arrive, they understand what is expected in New Zealand," Minister Davis says.

Over the past decade, the number of visitors freedom camping during their stay has risen from around 30,000 to 115,000 annually.

"Some people just don't like freedom campers being there," says Tasman Mayor Richard Kempthorne.

"But they are a very real part of our economy that we have to recognise and embrace."

Mr Davis says the Government won't be throwing money at the problem just yet, and will wait for the outcome of its working party.